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NASCAR Drivers Know Why Fans Don’t Like Auto Club Speedway

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  • In recent years, fans have called for more short tracks and fewer 1.5-mile and 2-mile speedways.
  • Expect Auto Club Speedway to be shortened from its current 2-mile configuration to as small as a half mile.
  • NASCAR has already announced that the series will not come to the California 2-mile track in 2024.

    Race fans and their favorite drivers don’t always agree on which speedways they prefer, and such is the case when it comes to the 2-mile Auto Club Speedway.

    In recent years, fans have called for more short tracks and fewer 1.5-mile and 2-mile speedways. On the other hand, the drivers enjoy racing on tracks such as the Southern California speedway in Fontana, Calif.

    “I think that what the drivers like a lot of times isn’t what the fans show up in droves to see,” Corey LaJoie said. “Fontana is a really fun race track. It has a lot of character with the ability to run five lanes, the ability to run on the fence, to use some tire conservation.

    “But, then again, it also plays into a stretched-out race with not a ton of passes, not a lot of cars close together which for the viewers on TV, they don’t necessarily love that.”

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    The field tends to get spread out rather quickly at the non-restrictor plate ovals, including Auto Club Speedway in California.

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    After Sunday’s NASCAR Cup race, the 26-year-old speedway built by Roger Penske will undergo an overhaul, and that makes this weekend “bittersweet.” Bubba Wallace likes the track so much that he wishes it could just be picked up and moved to a different location. Cole Custer believes the track has produced “some of the best racing that we’ve been in NASCAR the last five or six years.”

    “Auto Club is just so fun from a driver’s standpoint because it’s so slick,” Chase Briscoe said. “It’s wore out. It’s rough. You just bounce around. You literally run wherever on the race track, especially with the Nex Gen car. I thought that it was just a really well put together race track for those cars, so I’m bummed. I feel like that’s one of the tracks where you as a driver can make quite a bit of a difference.”

    Ryan Blaney agrees, describing the current California track as “unique … one of the funnest, coolest race tracks” that the series visits.

    “It is a big, slick, multiple lane groove race track. It is bumpy and rough and drivers love that stuff,” Blaney explained. “The reason why all of us loved Atlanta before they repaved it. Why all of us loved Texas before they repaved it. Chicago, we don’t even go there anymore, but all of us loved that place. Old, worn out tracks with a bunch of grooves and lanes are what drivers like. It is challenging and you are sliding around and there is room to race.

    Ryan Blaney gets why some fans tune out when it comes to racing on the big tracks.

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    “We don’t like running in a straight line any more than anybody likes watching it. It sucks when that stuff happens, but it is kind of the way it is. We don’t have much pull on it, obviously. We have failed at every attempt.”

    LaJoie admitted that while the drivers enjoy the speedway, it’s probably not much fun for the fan watching from the 20th row of the grandstands because “you see a football field between the top 30 cars.”

    “I don’t think it’s super exciting to watch necessarily, but we went there last year and it was a pretty good show,” LaJoie continued. “But NASCAR has to adapt and change with the changing landscape of just the economy. That land up there is super valuable so they can pay for a reconfiguration and make money on the backend of it in addition to that, then that’s what they’re going to do.”

    Last month, it was announced the speedway would be off the NASCAR Cup schedule for 2024 as its overhaul won’t be completed. The track will be shortened, but to what length and what configuration has yet to be determined. When the reconfiguration was initially mentioned, changing it to a half-mile track was at the forefront of the discussion.

    “If you would have asked me three years ago, I would have said we need all the short tracks we can get just because I felt like that was what put on the best product,” Briscoe said.

    However, last year the Next Gen car in its inaugural season didn’t possess a package that was conducive to good short-track and road course racing.

    “It’s just a struggle to get by anybody, where before it was fairly easy if you were one of the faster road course guys,” Briscoe said. “I think the package is the top priority right now and then if you figure out the package and it starts racing good, then we can start trying to find more short tracks. Right now, going to more short tracks hasn’t been the best answer for good races.”

    When Penske opened the speedway in 1997 the track then known as California Speedway was a state-of-the-art facility that even had a workout room for the competitors. It marked NASCAR’s return to the coveted Los Angeles market that it lost in 1988 when the famed Riverside International Raceway road course closed after 33 years of operation. Eight years earlier, Ontario Motor Speedway, the 2.5-mile track where Dale Earnhardt captured his first NASCAR championship, shut down after only a decade. In both cases, the race tracks succumbed to business and residential development.

    Now, developers find Auto Club Speedway’s property about 50 miles east of Los Angeles extremely valuable, especially when it comes to balancing the land value with attendance figures. The speedway’s inaugural race was a sellout, but with the addition of a second race in 2004, attendance began declining. The second race was removed in 2011 and three years later the grandstand seating capacity was reduced from 92,000 to 68,000 seats.

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